For many artists, positive reception of their pictures is simply an added bonus, not the true end to their creative means. For painter Carl Bretzke, the creative act seems to boil down into one lovely emotion: joy. How?
Finding joy through painting is something artists, collectors, and connoisseurs certainly experience. Painter Carl Bretzke of Minneapolis, Minnesota, is no different, though joy is often combined with a sense of urgency when a scene captures his imagination. The artist writes, “I think it’s important to be excited about what you paint. I can’t put my finger on exactly why a certain scene appeals to me, but I know that I experience a joyful sense of urgency when I see it. Often the scene will be some off combination of the mundane and the sublime. I then want to start the piece as quickly as possible before the light changes.”

Carl Bretzke, “Blue Night,” 2015, oil on panel, 16 x 20 in. (c) Carl Bretzke 2016

Once the moment of inspiration strikes, the scene’s light, subject, and color dictate Bretzke’s creative process. He suggests, “Technically, I rarely start any painting the same way anymore. Early on, I used a Payne’s gray underpainting taught to me by Joe Paquet. This allows me to draw and freeze the light effect quickly. As my skills have improved, I have eventually learned to shortcut the process by adding color earlier and keying in some light values early as well.”

Carl Bretzke, “Snow Day in the Warehouse District,” 2015, oil on linen, 24 x 36 in. (c) Carl Bretzke 2016

As the painting evolves, knowing when the work is finished is perhaps one of the most subjective and challenging moments. For Bretzke, this moment is both technical and personal. He says, “I know when a plein air piece is completed when I feel like any additional paint will start to diminish the fresh feeling of the image or when my wife, Kristie (also a painter), says, ‘I’m hungry, you’re done.’”

In addition to working en plein air, Bretzke has a matured studio practice, which allows him to work in a slower, more detailed manner. “I spend a lot more time analyzing and making lists of things to work on or change in the studio. It’s like this until I can’t think of anything else to change.”
As a writer for The Washington Post once remarked of Bretzke’s paintings, “They’re a little lonely and simultaneously intimate and detached.” The assessment seems apropos, as the artist’s landscapes and cityscapes are seldom populated with figures. The effect can be a ghostly one, but the absence of the figure only encourages the viewer to place himself or herself within the artist’s creative world. The pictures seem to invite you into their spaces while evoking feelings of nostalgia.

Carl Bretzke, “Tanker Reflection,” 2014, oil on linen, 24 x 36 in. (c) Carl Bretzke 2016

The future is bright for Bretzke — and sure to be filled with lots more painting. The artist writes, “This is an exciting time for me. I will retire from my medical practice this month and plan to put that energy into my painting. I will paint constantly and study more. I want to balance out my plein air work with some more carefully thought out studio pieces. I hope to remain as excited about painting as I am now and hopefully better at it.  My happiness comes from the journey.  My only goal has been to become a better painter.”
If you’d like to see Bretzke’s magnificent works in person, there are many opportunities across the nation, which are detailed here.
To learn more, visit Carl Bretzke.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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